The other day a mother told me she asked her kids about their day. The little six-year-old kindergartner complained rather ferociously: “Laura is following me around all day. She won’t leave me alone. I think she wants to be my girlfriend. Ew-w-w.” The mother empathically responded that it’s hard when someone wants you to be something, you don’t want to be.
Then her ten-year-old daughter chimed in bashfully, “I really like Richie. He’s so cool and I want him to be my boyfriend, but I don’t know if he likes me.” Now the mom was even more involved. She was a bit stunned and didn’t know what to say. Ten to her meant on the way to becoming a teen and she thought her response could matter in the future.
What would you have said?
Three Tips on Responding to Comments About Boyfriends and Girlfriends by Young Kids
1. Be mindful of the child’s stage of development.
Kids at different ages think differently about what a boyfriend or girlfriend means. So do a little investigating before you jump in. Ask, “What is a boyfriend/girlfriend?
You might get some pretty adorable answers like, “He likes me the best” or “She thinks I’m the coolest.” So you can respond, “That’s pretty great to have this new special friend.”
But if your child is older in the tweenish years, you might hear: “I hope he puts my picture on facebook. I want everyone to know that he likes me.” Then, you might ask if your daughter wants to check out facebook with you. This is a whole new ball of wax: social media relationships.
2. Open up the conversation.
Invite your child to tell you more, opening up the conversation, rather than giving quick advice that closes the subject down inadvertently.
Ask your child t tell you more about the boy or girl: “What do you like about him?” “What do you do together?” “That’s cool, tell me more about what he likes to do.”
Now you can pursue the social media question more fully as well if you are talking to a tween. Have a discussion about what they think about facebook. What do they want to share?
What do they want to be private? This is a wonderful opportunity to discuss the difference between public and private.
3. Remember to be non-judgmental, so your child learns you are the person they can confide in.
Try to avoid words like “Don’t….” “Be careful…” “You’re too young….” That turns kids off.
You want to build your parent-child bond,so if there’s anything to worry about in the future, you will hear about it and can help. You want your child to trust you.
After all, your young child came to you in particular with this precious information. He or she wants YOU to know about his life, so welcome the conversation.
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst with an upcoming book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior, to be released in October, 2015.